Michigan was aggressively bad today in their 29-6 loss to Michigan State. Well, at least the offense was, as the defense was actually decent against a mediocre Spartans offense that routinely started drives around midfield. But the offense was the type of bad that makes dogs run away from homes and football fans want to find a new sport to watch. The only way for an offense to play as poorly as Michigan did today is a combination of no blocking, a quarterback ill-prepared to face the opponent’s defense and an offensive coordinator so clueless at play calling he would struggle at Madden. That’s what Michigan had today and it was ugly.
Michigan’s offensive line was looked at as their biggest potential weakness entering this season. Other than Taylor Lewan, it was an inexperienced, unproven group. They showed some growing pains early on in the year, but played well enough for Michigan to beat Notre Dame and look good in their first two games. But since Michigan beat the Irish, the offensive line has regressed every week. Against a very good Spartans defense today, they were absolutely terrible, giving the already skittish Devin Gardner little time in the pocket. I guess the o-line performance shouldn’t be surprising, but when even Lewan isn’t playing well and picking up personal fouls, it’s concerning.
Gardner didn’t get much help from his offensive line, receivers, running game or coaches, but he still had a disappointing game. In a big rivalry game on the road, good quarterbacks have to step up and play well. Breaking records against a hapless Indiana defense at home is one thing, but making big plays (and just as importantly, not making the stupid plays) is something Gardner has to do in big games to solidify himself. Instead, he looked nervous and was impotent against an aggressive Michigan State defense. Gardner completed just 14-27 passes for 210 yards and an interception. He didn’t have many open targets today, but when he did, Gardner often either didn’t see them as he stumbled around in the pocket or didn’t throw an accurate enough pass. Gardner looked like a quarterback still not prepared for the big moment and still lacking any sort of field or pocket awareness after now 13 starts. He still has the cannon of an arm that makes fans drool and the mobility to keep defenses at bay, but Gardner just hasn’t shown the confidence, awareness or poise that starters must have. And that has to be a problem long-term.
But isn’t it the offensive coordinator’s job to maximize the potential of his offense? If it is, someone should tell Al Borges. Borges’ play calling has been by far the most frustrating aspect of this Michigan team all season (as well as last year). What Michigan needed from today’s game-plan was a balanced attack, that could neutralize the Spartan’s pass rush with some quick passing and a downhill running game. Instead, Borges called long passing plays that his offensive line simply was incapable of blocking for and predictable hesitation run plays out of the shotgun that fooled no one and forced Fitzgerald Toussaint to run, at a keyed up defensive front, without any momentum when he got the ball. Borges’ plays don’t fool any defenses and aren’ very effective to start with. As you could easily predict, the passing plays didn’t work, and Michigan rushed for the fewest yards in the history of the program: -48. Borges is an astoundingly inept coach, who seems either completely unaware of what his offense really is or is too stubborn to adapt to it. Either way, he shouldn’t be at Michigan next year.
Also, if Brady Hoke is going to go without a headset during games, disconnecting himself from in-game play calling, then he is responsible for Borges choices. Hoke must recognize his offensive coordinator’s maddening game-plan and play calling and do something about it.
Michigan’s offense hasn’t been quite right all year, and has been covered up partly because they have won and demolished some awful defenses. But after the awful play calling in the overtimes against Penn State two weeks ago and now today’s debacle, Borges’ ineptitude is very obvious and has made Michigan’s offense an absolute joke.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdaleCFB